The Stone Opera

4K video, stereo, 60 min, 2022.

How to look at the landscape and how to recount it? “The Stone Opera” attempts an answer in the continuity of the investigations of Interstices. This plural work is composed at the same time as a musical piece, a visual experiment, and a sound documentary in an attempt to totalize the genres, without, however, claiming to be exhaustive. Following a geopoetic approach, as Kenneth White understands it, the work welcomes the landscape, as much as it is welcomed by the latter, following a look that discovers, without desire of conquest, the surroundings of the town of Redeyef, starting from the top of its mountain massifs. “The Stone Opera” consists of three acts in which four people from Redeyef – Sakend, Taher, then Farouk, and Montassar – intervene as troubadours telling stories about the mountain, the myths of the region, and the treasure seekers.

The testimonies, grafted onto the images of the landscape, function as temporal and auditory markers which, in the background, historicize the work and territorialize it; and from one story to another, we move from the immemorial history of nature to the present day. At the heart of these stories are the stones, whose properties are explained, stones formed in a region where phosphate is just as vital as water. When it is not explored and exploited, the landscape appears as the privileged witness of human passions. Based on these stories, the narrative moves forward in parallel with the movements of the camera, which focuses exclusively on the mountain and its life forms. Thus, the use of still shots is not as much a reflection of the stasis and sedentariness often associated with the mountain landscape as it is of a latent dynamic whose rhythm reveals the resistance of Man and his environment to fixedness.

Redeyef is a town threatened by oblivion, confined in the margins of the margins, and locked in its own socio-economic reality. Absence of entertainment, impossibility to turn away from the reality of space and time. But eventually, this constant confrontation with the landscape feeds an ecological awareness that “The Stone Opera” tries to capture. The visual, auditory and perhaps even musical, and theatrical creation is conceived as an attempt to contribute to the structure of the landscape, to show the threads invisible to the naked eye – stripped by their own conditionings – linking nature to its people. In this sense, “The Stone Opera” is an immersive experience through graphic interventions on the images of the mountain. Interventions that echo human activities and the overexploitation of an environment doomed to erasure.

The diagrams create an architecture of collapse, foretelling the exhaustion of resources and the permanent retreat of the mountain. In any case, it is a matter of proposing a precautionary cartography that is only there to suggest an orientation, a positioning of the outlook without ever determining it. To these tracings are added sounds modulated by an electronic game and constantly fused to open or close the different parts of the work. These interventions complete the soundscape populated by the voices of the people of Redeyef and the sounds of nature. The last wide shot shows the town of Redeyef without penetrating it while the music of El Hadhra supplants the electronic sounds, the whole revealing a centripetal movement that starts from nature to join men and a deep entanglement between the primitive and the modern.

Fatma Belhedi